In the weeks leading up to the US presidential election last year, there was a lot of speculation about how the stock market would react. Uncertainty does not inspire confidence among investors. That speculation sparked discussion among those of us in corporate communications and investor relations about maintaining situational awareness and crisis management.
Now here we are almost a month into the Trump presidency and there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the air. Regardless of your politics, questions remain. How will Trump’s policies influence stocks, bond markets, commodities, the flow of trade, and economies around the world? Will the intelligence community and the administration find a way to cooperate? How will all of this effect global perceptions of risk and market uncertainty?
Perhaps most important for communicators is that the President has singled out individual corporations and executives via social media and in his public statements. Consider some recent headlines:
- Fear in a time of Trump: How Wall Street thinks about risk (MarketWatch, 2/8/17)
- A Little Birdie Told Me: Playing the Market on Trump Tweets (New York Times, 2/16/17)
- President Trump’s Tweets Have Companies Playing Defense (Wall Street Journal, 2/8/17)
- Are Trump’s tweets a boost or a blow to companies? (Financial Times, 2/9/17)
When the President speaks—and tweets—markets listen. How can firms manage their reputation (and associated stock volatility) in an era of 3:00 a.m. Twitter-storms?
1. Have a clear story. Test your story.
First, make sure you have a clear corporate narrative already in place. Your narrative should reflect your company’s strategy and decision-making criteria. That is, your words and your actions should align and convey credibility. This is true whether communicating to Wall Street, Main Street or Capitol Hill. When a crisis strikes, credibility can be the determining factor in successfully weathering the storm.
Test your narrative via with a broad team. I recommend having at a minimum investor relations, communications, legal, government relations, operations, and sales at the table. The goal is to have as many perspectives as possible around the table to put your messaging through its paces. If your budget allows for including an unbiased third-party, that perspective can be incredibly helpful to get the group out of its conventional thinking.
During this session, poke all the holes in your message; ask all the uncomfortable questions; ask irrational questions. Nothing is out of bounds. Then, development a plan for countering each line of attack.
Develop holding statements (which deserve an entire post of their own). Consider what you will want to say to investors, the media, and your internal team. Your messages should be concise, accurate, and informative. Test your potential responses if possible.
2. Have a crisis management plan.
Make sure that you have a solid plan in place for dealing with a crisis when it happens. Have a crisis team in place and make sure its participants meet regularly. Have a system in place for notifying stakeholders.
At one time, our only option for a notification system was a “phone tree” and team of callers. Today’s technology makes triggering a crisis management plan as simple as sending a single email, text message or making a single phone call.
Here, it’s a good idea to consider using multiple communications channels and establishing preferences ahead of a crisis situation. Some constantly check email, others are more likely to receive a text message or a tweet. So ensure that information is prepared for a variety of communication channels.
Have an answer to the following questions:
- How will you notify your team that you are in crisis mode?
- How will you disseminate information as it becomes available?
- Who is responsible for putting the plan in motion and seeing it through?
3. Define team member roles.
Be sure crisis management roles are well-defined and documented. Ensure that all team members understand their roles, responsibilities and interdependencies. It’s crucial for everyone to be on the same page and operating efficiently.
Do what you can to prevent untrained representatives from speaking with the media. And make sure that, like a well-tuned orchestra, your whole team understands their specific function.
4. Talk to your board of directors.
Before a crisis hits, discuss with your board of directors the crisis management plan you have put into place. Explain the details of your plan: how you arrived at the strategy, what protocols you are following, your team’s special expertise, etc.
Assure your board that you are preparing for all contingencies. Ask for their input. Often Board Members have been through challenging situations and will have good suggestions that may add perspective to your plan.
Perhaps most important, reassure your Board that all strategic moves will be made with transparency and in accordance with the processes outlined in the crisis plan.
5. Talk to your c-suite.
Engage your c-suite executives early on. Ideally, they should be visible champions of the planning process.
Make sure that your executives are strategically aligned and prepared in the face of a crisis as well. There’s little worse than watching your executive get caught off guard by a question from the media. So train your executives in crisis communications.
Even if your CEO has done an admirable job as the spokesperson for your corporation, there’s a critical difference between promoting a company in good times and preserving a company in bad times.
Dealing with a market crisis is one of the toughest scenarios that organizations face, but if you maintain a clear plan, you will be ready to face the crisis head on. Our team at Audacia Strategies has firsthand experience in crisis management and dealing with some of the most sensitive crisis areas that corporations must oversee.
Are you ready to develop your crisis communications strategy and in need of someone to help you steer through? Contact us to schedule your consultation.
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